Government authorities were apparently aware that large-scale expansion work had been going on behind the main Akshardham Complex on the Yamuna banks since 2010.
Environmentalists wrote letters to top government officials, stating that the expansion may not have prior clearance from the environment department. But no action was taken, allowing the temple trust to approach the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) in December 2012 and seek regularisation of illegal expansions already completed by it.
The trust — Bochasanwasi Sri Akshar Purshottam Sanstha — built the old complex comprising a dharamshala, a spiritual development centre, an exhibition hall and a book store in 2005 without environment clearance. The government says the practice of obtaining clearance for projects with built-up area of 20,000 sqm or more started only in 2006.
But in 2010, the trust again started building an additional built-up area of 2,54,97 sqm — comprising a dharamshala, a yoga center and two spiritual development centres.
The environment clearance issued by the SEIAA for five years says: “It was brought to notice that the trust was not aware of the requirement of EC for the expansion and hence completed the expansion. The violations should not be repeated.”
The expansion means 1,600 more cars can be parked now. The area of basement has gone up fourfold. “This means further pressure on the already shrinking riverbed,” said former Central Pollution Control Board official Mahendra Pandey.
Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, a group of environmentalists, had in August 2010 written to Delhi’s Lt Governor, chief minister and all other authorities concerned about the expansion. “Massive multi-storied construction over some 25,497 sqm built-up area is taking place. This has no environmental clearance,” the letter reads.
“Delhi requires every inch of its riverbed protected for water security. We hope you will take action to prevent any illegality in the riverbed,” it continued.
Sandeep Mishra, member secretary of the SEIAA, said, “We cannot quantify the pollution caused during construction and take action on that basis. But for the remaining construction they have to follow our rules.”
“We have ordered the trust to put in place pollution-control measures needed. We are monitoring it and have the authority to cancel the clearance in case of non-compliance,” he said.